Countertop Vacuum Sealers
How we tested
Have you ever frozen ground meat or berries inside a zipper-lock bag and found them covered in ice crystals only a week later? We have. Vacuum sealers can prevent that disappointment. These machines remove air from customized storage bags before sealing them tightly, effectively protecting the foods inside the bags from moisture loss or gain, whether they’re stored for long periods in the freezer or at room temperature in the pantry.
A high-quality handheld vacuum sealer is fine for occasional use, but for those who do a lot of vacuum-sealing—vegetable gardeners, frequent visitors to farmers markets, CSA members, people who like to hunt and fish, bulk shoppers, and meal preppers—we recommend investing in a countertop model because they’re sturdier, easier to use, and more powerful. And because their customized bags are water-tight and sturdy, vacuum sealers are also a good tool to have if you do a lot of sous vide cooking.
To find the best product, we purchased seven models, priced from about $50 to about $400. (We didn’t include any chamber vacuum sealers, which have big, bubble-shaped lids that enclose the bags while sealing them. Weighing more than 50 pounds and costing upwards of $1,000, those machines are better suited for professional settings.) To test performance, we vacuum-sealed eight kinds of foods, from berries to blade steaks, and stashed the bags in our freezer and pantry, checking them regularly over a period of months for loose seals and signs of food degradation. We also used each model to vacuum-seal slices of butternut squash in bags to which we’d added ¼ cup of water. Vacuum-sealing bags containing water poses a special challenge: If water from the bag is pulled into the machine, it can damage the motor. We then placed the bags in a 200-degree sous-vide bath and checked periodically for broken seals that would allow for air and water to enter. Finally, we recruited a team of testers to evaluate the user-friendliness of each machine.
How to Use a Vacuum Sealer
The models we tested all operated in a similar manner. We placed the food inside one of the customized or generic plastic bags, opened the machine’s lid, positioned the open end of the bag over a seal bar and inside a small chamber ringed by a foam gasket that includes a small port, and then shut the lid. When activated, the small port pulled the air from a bag and caused it to tighten around the food. When the vacuum cycle was finished, the seal bar heated up and melted a narrow strip across the top of the plastic bag, sealing it shut. This process took seconds to complete.
All of the vacuum sealers were equipped with a few customized bags. Four of the manufacturers recommended using only their brand-specific bags, so we bought extra sets online. Three companies didn’t sell additional bags, so we purchased sets of generic bags from a third party and used them with those models throughout testing. All the bags, regardless of which model they belonged to, were made of thick, sturdy plastic with textured patterns on the insides that created pathways to direct air flow during a vacuum cycle. Three of the machines provided storage space for rolls of plastic bags with integrated bag cutters, which were very convenient since we could cut whatever length we needed and then seal them along one end to form a bag.
All the Machines Lived up to Their Names
Though we deliberately selected a diverse assortment of foods to vacuum-seal—strawberries, ground coffee, steaks, ground beef, chicken leg quarters, a single portion of lasagna, cereal, and pretzels—none of the machines or bags faltered. Each machine removed air, pulling the bags tight around every type of food, and then melted a sturdy seal into the plastic. Also, none pulled in water while sealing the bags of butternut squash. We performed tests to measure each machine’s vacuum power, basing the scores on a scale of 0 percent (normal atmosphere) to 100 percent (every single molecule of air removed from bags): The scores of the machines ranged from about 68 to about 78 percent. (For comparison, our favorite handheld model achieved a 50 percent score while an eager editor using a drinking straw was only able to draw out about 30 percent of the air.)
In addition, the vacuum-sealed foods held up well over time. After 4 months, all the bags in the pantry were still tightly sealed and the condition of the food remained unchanged. The frozen coffee, strawberry, and lasagna samples were practically perfect, showing no signs of ice at all after 4 months. However, the frozen steaks developed patches of ice crystals after about 6 weeks. The ice patches were small and relatively consistent in size and quality across models. After inspecting the bags, we found that the plastic was still tight around the steaks and all the seals were still intact.
A separate test with oxygen-detecting tablets offered more evidence that the vacuum sealers performed well. The special tablets we vacuum-sealed in bags with each machine remained pink (instead of darkening to a deep purple), indicating that oxygen had not entered the bags. Moisture hadn’t entered either.
Two Simple Settings Were Sufficient
Most of the time, we simply pressed a button and let the machines work automatically. But every machine could also be controlled manually, allowing us to start and stop the vacuum process ourselves, a helpful feature when trying to avoid crushing delicate foods like salmon or crunchy, fragile snacks. Some machines offered other settings. The pulse buttons on two models allowed us to remove air incrementally, which we liked. Four machines also had gentle settings or the option to decrease the vacuum power. These settings on two of these models removed just 39 and 44.5 percent of the air in the bags, much less than they had on their manual settings. Our verdict? An automatic mode and a manual option are necessities on these machines, and a pulse button and a decreased (yet still effective) power setting are nice additions.
We Liked Simple, Clean Designs
Some of the machines had puzzling control panels that were hard to decipher. One had little lights situated above setting labels that illuminated as we toggled between settings, but they dimmed too quickly and left us unsure about which setting we had selected. Another had up and down arrows that could be used to customize both the vacuum pressure and seal time. We surmised that tinkering with settings and figuring out the best possible combination of settings when sealing different types of foods would be appealing to some users, but it felt like overkill for most of us. Our favorites had clearly labeled buttons, plus a row of indicator lights or a small digital screen that communicated each step of the process: vacuum, seal, done.
For Expensive Machines, Some Were Surprisingly Clunky
Before any of the machines could pull air from bags, their lids had to be firmly closed and locked, a process that proved surprisingly difficult with many models. Some lids had to be firmly pressed in two places until we heard a clicking sound. When sealing gallon-size bags, the lids of some lower-ranked machines were awkwardly positioned at about an arm’s length away, making it hard to get enough leverage to close them firmly. We hated the sharp cracking noise that some models made when we pressed down on their lids. Even though we were following the machines’ directions, it sounded like we were breaking something.
The lids of higher-ranked models closed more gently. The lids of two had to be held down gently for the first few seconds of use, just until the vacuum suction began, which was quick and easy enough. One had a dial that, once turned, caused an internal mechanism to latch softly but reassuringly. The lid of our favorite model offered a big, sturdy handle that we could swing forward a few degrees with minimal effort to tightly lock it into place.
Size and Stability Matter
The size of the machines also determined how easy they were to use. Two, which weighed about 20 pounds each, sat securely on the counter and felt solidly made, but they were hard to store and carry around a kitchen. Lighter, slimmer machines were easier to maneuver, but some felt flimsy. One model sometimes rocked back and forth, and it became top-heavy when the lid was open. Our favorite struck a good balance: At about 6 pounds, it was easy to lift, relatively easy to store, and reassuringly sturdy.
The Best Countertop Vacuum Sealer: Nesco Vacuum Sealer
Based on performance alone, we could recommend every machine we tested. But we know that non-essential appliances like vacuum sealers won’t get any use if they’re fussy or inconvenient. That’s why we prioritized user-friendliness when determining our rankings. The 6-pound Nesco Deluxe Vacuum Sealer was sturdy yet relatively compact and light enough to lift comfortably. Its handle locked the lid firmly into place before using and its easy-to-read display screen indicated when the machine was vacuuming, sealing, or done with its cycle. No guesswork involved. A handful of settings offered all of the customization we needed. It also has two handy bonus features: a roll storage compartment with built-in slicer so you can easily cut bags to size, plus an attachment that allows you to vacuum-seal dry goods like flour or grains in reusable canisters, which must be purchased separately, instead of in plastic bags. Less expensive than some of the models tested, it’s a great choice for most home cooks who vacuum-seal regularly.
We tested seven countertop vacuum sealers, priced from about $50 to about $400. With each model, we vacuum-sealed a wide variety of foods and stored them in either the freezer or in our pantry at room temperature. We monitored the tightness of the bags’ seals and quality of the food for several months. If manufacturers sold additional bags, we used those throughout testing. With other models, we used a set of generic bags sold by Nutri-Lock. We also performed a control test using oxygen-detecting tablets, using both generic and branded bags. We assessed the power of each machine by measuring the amount of air each was able to extract from bags on average. The possible score range was from 0 percent, which is normal atmosphere, to 100 percent, which signifies that every single air molecule has been removed. The weight and dimensions of each machine were measured in-house. All products were purchased online, and the prices listed are what we paid. Products appear below in order of preference.
Performance: The preferred vacuum sealers successfully removed air from their bags and the bags did not lose their seal during extended testing.
Ease of Use: Our favorite models had clearly labeled buttons and indicator lights. We also liked digital screens that tracked the progress of the vacuum-seal process.
Handling: We liked vacuum sealers that were relatively lightweight and small enough to move around the kitchen easily. The best models had lids that locked into place gently and easily.